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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Flagships Taking Centre Stage in 2021

Copyright National Museum of the Royal Navy by Dave Hartley

The UK’s leading naval heritage destination Portsmouth Historic Dockyard announces reopening date of 17 May 2021

The partnership of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and the Mary Rose Trust (MRT), in conjunction with Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust (PNBPT), have announced that Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will reopen to visitors on Monday 17 May at 1000hrs with tickets already on sale, and timed booking slots made available online from 1000hrs on Wednesday 5 May. With COVID safety measures reviewed and in place, pre-booking ahead of a visit remains essential.

2021 will see the world-class heritage destination putting its incredible flagships; HMS Victory and the Mary Rose; centre stage by introducing exciting new visitor experiences which will be included in its Ultimate Explorer ticket, a simplified annual ticket launched last summer. 

HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship will open with the site on 17 May and will detail the extraordinary story of this remarkable survivor from acorn to Icon and explore the lesser known history of the oldest naval ship still in commission, in the world.  Generously funded by the Society of Nautical Research and The HMS Victory Preservation Company, the gallery will display previously unseen objects from the ship including a section of HMS Victory mainmast, damaged at the Battle of Trafalgar, which is on display in Portsmouth for the first time. Construction and conservation will be major themes in the display drawing comparisons between shipbuilding skills 200 years ago and the painstaking work still undertaken today. 

This summer a new immersive visitor experience will be unveiled at the Mary Rose to mark the loss of the ship and her crew in July 1545. It will give visitors a chance to hear about the ship from King Henry VIII himself and will put visitors virtually onboard during the Battle of the Solent in which she sank.  

Teams across the site have been hard at work during the closure period to revitalise the visitor offer and ensure that all elements of a visit remain COVID safe. Pre-booking remains essential with data captured in conjunction with the government's track and trace system. Details of this and further COVID safety measures can be found on the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website. The Historic Dockyard is a proud recipient of VisitEngland’s ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard and supporting mark which means businesses can demonstrate that they are adhering to the respective Government and public health guidance, have carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment and checked that they have the required processes in place.

The reopening of the site is a major milestone in an 18-month period of financial uncertainty for  all operators of the site. It is well documented that all have been seriously impacted by the closure enforced by the pandemic. It was confirmed last month that this year the NMRN will get essential additional support from the Royal Navy of up to £4.42m, in addition to the generous support received last year.  The Mary Rose Trust announced a further grant of £327,652 from the Government’s £1.57billion Cultural Recovery Fund but finances remain very precarious with a significant threat to the Mary Rose Trust’s cash flow as early as the end of the year if ticket revenue does not materialise.  The PNBPT were grateful for the government CRF funding of £697k to support the operations of the boatbuilding academy on site, and for the additional £220k grant in the most recent round of funding to assist with operations.

Director General for the NMRN, Professor Dominic Tweddle says: “We are delighted to be able to welcome back visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this summer after another extended period of closure. Over 80% of our income comes from visitors. Without visitors, we will not survive. They are our lifeblood. We have sought to use this period to continue to develop our offer and the new  HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship  gallery is a thrilling addition to the destination. After the launch of our new collaborative arrangements with our good neighbours and partners the Mary Rose Trust last year, every indication is that our visitors love the flexibility of the new ticket.  Ours is a world class experience and we are optimistic that this summer will be a safe and memorable one.”

Dominic Jones, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust says:“We are really excited to welcome our visitors, staff and volunteers back after months of closure to both the Mary Rose and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.  Along with our colleagues at the National Museum of the Royal Navy we have been working hard to ensure Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and its amazing attractions are safe places to visit.  Every museum in the country is facing challenging times, so I would encourage everyone to visit us and other local museums to show their support. The majority of our tickets are valid for the whole year so not only offer exceptional value, but also the chance to return and visit our new Mary Rose immersive experience this summer.  This along with our new family trail will ensure many happy memorable visits to both the Mary Rose and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.”

Hannah Prowse, CEO of Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust says: “We are so excited to see life return to the dockyard and to open up again for visitors to enjoy the unique historic environment. In addition to the world-class attractions offered by our partners, the historic dockyard is also home to the International Boat building Training College where you can see great craft and skill in action, and the flotilla of operational historic craft available for rides throughout the summer: HSL 102 rescued airmen in the Battle of Britain and F8 operated in the Falklands - come and ride on history!”

The brand-new gallery HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship is part of a greatly enhanced visitor offer for HMS Victory which, in addition to a self-guided tour of the ship, now includes the ability to walk down into the dry dock under the enormous hull on a dedicated walkway, weaving through the recently completed and new state of the art support system. The walkway was only open for a short time last summer before the site was closed. 

The new gallery has been completely refitted and the story goes beyond Victory’s immortalised role at the Battle of Trafalgar Through a mixture of large format cinematic film, interactives, newly displayed and previously unseen artefacts including a shot-damaged section of original Victory mast from the Battle of Trafalgar and a spectacular ten-foot-tall, 200-year-old figurehead, it charts her decline and rescue in the 1920s by the Society of Nautical Research (SNR) and the dramatic events when she could have been permanently lost to the nation.

It introduces visitors to the people, both famous and not so famous, behind the ship’s 256-year history and adds to her rich story with new snippets of information for even the most ardent Victory fans. 

The building in which the exhibition is housed sits immediately across from Victory and is dedicated to the late Vice-Admiral Sir Donald Gosling, a generous benefactor to the ship. Since 1930 it has housed W L Wyllie’s The Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar, which measures 13 metres x 4 metres is perhaps the largest representation of the battle in existence. So big is the painting that the building was constructed around it. 

In the 90th anniversary year of Wyllie’s death, the Panorama has been redisplayed and digitally reinterpreted so visitors can get even closer to it.

Andrew Baines Executive Director of Operation for NMRN and lead curator on the new gallery says: “Visitors love HMS Victory and they never tire of her story. But even those who think they know all about the ship, will discover something new. The Nation’s Flagship makes the ship the star. It’s a tale of peril and jeopardy to secure the legacy of what is possibly one of the world’s most famous ships, the oldest naval ship still in commission and now the Flagship of the First Sea Lord.”  

Another new exhibition that was subject to early closure is  Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 which explores the fascinating discovery and underwater excavation of 18th century battleship, HMS Invincible which sank in February 1758 when she hit a sandbank in the East Solent.

Diving Deep tells the story of Invincible; her capture from the French, the contribution she made to the Royal Navy and ship design and her subsequent sinking and rediscovery by a local fisherman, Arthur Mack, nearly 200 years later. It will also showcase some of the objects and findings from the archaeological excavation, probably the most important of its kind in UK waters for nearly 40 years since the Mary Rose. The exhibition uses the latest in digital technology including photogrammetry, 3D reconstruction of the excavation and new techniques in underwater filming captured on a three-screen projection, to bring the often unseen and mysterious world of underwater excavation to life in an innovative and inventive way.  Described by its Community Archaeologist Eileen Clegg as “diving without getting wet” the display will allow visitors to get “up close and personal” to the seabed, where the wreck has lain for 230 years and where it will remain. 

Tickets are already on sale on  www.historicdockyard.co.uk  and timed booking slots will be made available online from 1000hrs on Wednesday 5 May subject to government guidelines remaining the same as currently published. Visitors should note that the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower reopen on Wednesday 19 May. 

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